I found a staid – very mainline Western – Roman Catholic commentary on the Old Testament whilst in the USA. The book is more than 50 years old. I was interested in it, though, because it confirmed the recent scholar Margaret Barker who has made some radical claims about the ‘Deuteronomist Party’ who were largely responsible for a massive refashioning of the Jewish Bible after the return from Babylon circa 500 BC. [Karen Armstrong has also provided evidence of this in ‘The Case For God’, 2010.]
The Roman Catholic author uses the ugly word ‘redacted’ for the re-editing of the Jewish Scriptures after Babylon which, in effect, changed the Jewish religion from what it had been in the First Temple and earlier going back to Abraham, Jacob, and Job, into what it became after 500 BC= more Mosaic, more Law oriented, less existential, less mysterious and poetic..
The impression conveyed by the Roman Catholic author was that virtually all of the Pentateuch — the first 5 books of the Bible, which Jews call Torah [the Law, the Teaching] — were written down, or if already written, then substantially edited, after Babylon. Thus, Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, are all ‘later’ written down segments of the Jewish Bible. What seem to be chronologically earlier parts are in fact later additions, and what is more questionable, later revisions..
For example, the two Genesis stories certainly demonstrate Babylonian influence, and were nuanced to both copy certain Babylonian motifs yet at the same time put a more Jewish take on them. The account of the Creation is therefore not primal to Judaism at all, but a later after thought, of more recent origin.
More significantly, all the multitude of ‘laws’ in Deuteronomy and Leviticus were mostly culled from documents found in the rubble of the First Temple, and dating no later than 700 BC, but these writings were seized upon as the work of Moses himself [a blatant lie], and in effect, post Babylon Judaism rendered Moses as ‘the’ Saviour Figure par excellence, and reduced being saved to the reward for keeping within the Law[s], whilst not being saved is the punishment for going outside the Law[s].. Indeed, it is almost as if this Second Temple Judaism believed that God’s covenantal relationship with the Jews was really founded on Moses— rather than resuscitated by him after several hundred years of captivity in Egypt. Abraham, and Jacob, and Job, disappear as the existential founders of Judaism, and de facto, the Chief Foundation instead becomes Moses.
But there is more to it even than that.
It is as if Moses is used by the Second Temple Judaism to reinstate the First Covenant, and to do this in direct defiance of the prophets, among them Jeremiah, who declared God’s revelation that the Babylon captivity signified the failure of the First Covenant, and would therefore need to be followed by the Second Covenant of the Messianic Age. Thus, Mosaic Judaism, even if ostensibly ‘waiting for the Messiah’, misunderstands the Messianic by virtue of clinging to the First Covenant and not letting it fail, as indeed it did fail, so as to clear the way for the coming of the New, Second and truly Messianic, Covenant. Inevitably, the Messiah becomes just an add on, an extra, to be tacked on to the Saviour Figure of Moses. Just more of the same.. That puts the Messiah as a sort of crowning culmination of the First Covenant, whereas the Messiah is in reality a replacement for, and the answer to, the total failure and entire demise of the First Covenant.
The net result was that the more moderate dynamism of the First Covenant is preferred to the more radical dynamism of the Second Covenant. The former is concerned with the reform of human actions, the latter promises a fundamental change in human disposition, a new heart.
For the Jews, whose spirituality is not spatial but temporal, ‘going backwards’ to an earlier felicity is entirely impossible; they must press ahead. Mosaic, Law oriented Judaism is retrogressive, an attempt to step backward in time to a relationship with God which God himself — unless Jeremiah was deceived, as his enemies claimed — has declared defunct, and in need of ‘updating’ with a very new, and different relationship. The old passes away, and something not simply renewed, but more advanced, steps into the breach.
Thus after Babylon, Judaism splits into two very distinct streams. The Official Stream of Judaism is Mosaic and Law oriented. The Unofficial Stream, signified by the second Isaiah of the Suffering Servant, and the David of the lamenting and inwardly battling Psalms, awaits the true Messiah. Yeshua was a part of this second stream. Paul began a part of the first stream, but by meeting Yeshua in person, on the road to Damascus, was converted to the second stream. It was the greater Judaism, yet treated as lesser, or just entirely ignored, by most ‘official’ Jews. The lesser, Mosaic Judaism was exalted.
The Roman Catholic writer also said something interesting about the Torah Books [which might apply to the whole of the Jewish Bible]. He said there are four main traditions that shaped the ‘First’ 5 Books=
–The Priestly Tradition -– to do with ceremonies, and the theme of purification. Everything to do with worship is classified and systematized. This emphasis is lucid and precise, but lacks the warmth and vividness that is so much in evidence elsewhere.
–The Deuteronomist Tradition -– the redactors, who believed in a primitive notion of reward and punishment= if you stay within the Law[s], God will reward you [save/rescue/deliver/flourish/benefit you], but if you go outside the boundary of the Law[s], God will punish you [not save/not rescue/not deliver/not flourish/not benefit you]. The Holocaust kills off the Deuteronomy standpoint.. Or, in a very un-Jewish way, you have to remove the reward or punishing to an after-life not in this world [as Christians of the Deuteronomy tradition have explicitly done].
–The Elohim Tradition — stressing God’s might. This is Daemonic, but too transcendent, not sufficiently immanent. It is really about establishing respect for God’s unreachable height and humanity’s lowliness= necessary– but not sufficient on its own; an aspect of the Daemonic, not the whole, nor even the most important.
–The Yahweh Tradition — it portrays Yahweh with human qualities, it is poetic in language, and — despite the prohibition on images — rich in imaginative symbol, metaphor, story-telling.. No abstract [Greek] theology, but concrete ikonic vision of God’s energies and actions.. Yahweh is the mystery beyond all mysteries, yet he is the personalness of God passionately reaching beyond the gap between uncreated and created; the God of heartbreak and heart restoration, the God who suffers with and suffers for humanity, as well as making humanity suffer to reclaim their true heart.
The Rabbinic method of teaching draws heavily upon the pathos and poetry of the Yahweh tradition.
Jesus deployed, in his parables, the same method as earlier Jewish rabbis, blending the historical and the symbolic ‘as one.’ Thus two converse kinds of hermeneutic are false to this method of storytelling.
On the one hand=
If you interpret the sacred text only literally, as fundamentalists and evangelicals, or the religiously conservative, do, then you miss the point. For there is a wealth of meaning latent in the literal historical ‘fact’ which its sheer factuality cannot transmit, unless read symbolically. Starting with the historical, the meaning takes you into other dimensions at a remove from that literal time and place, and not confined to it. This ‘extra meaning’ can be mystical or psychological or moral; it always expands the ‘ostensible meaning’ by uncovering mysterious spiritual factors at work in it. Consequently, the literal is never simply literal, because the literal is a metaphor for something beyond it, yet embodied in it. There are subtleties which inhere ‘what really happened.’ The literal is a poem– not a computer print-out, or a set of rational-factual statements. These kinds of literalism have a very limited meaning. Their meaning is limited to only one level, a level not rich in meaning, but deprived of meaning.
Studying Hasidic interpretations of the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible is very instructive. These interpretations use the historical narrative as spring-boards to symbolic meanings quite far from any literalist reading. The Jewish Bible should never be read without consulting the ancient Rabbinical commentaries on it.
On the other hand=
If you interpret the sacred text only metaphorically, denying that the particular embodiment in which it is couched matters, then you proceed more in a Greek Hellenic, not a Jewish, manner. You go too fast to disembodied universals of meaning, or generalities that supposedly apply across the board, any place at any time. Any symbol becomes merely the excuse to trot out a panoply of ‘pure ideas.’ This anti-literalist approach to Rabbinic meaning-making also falsifies it. For Jews, the particular place and the particular time matters in the meaning, and cannot be shed as if it were merely an ‘outer suit of clothing’, not the ‘inner reality.’ The true meaning is incarnate, not disincarnate= not floating in some space, whether that non-physical domain is seen as spiritual or as psychological [or a mixture of the two= the ‘psychic matrix’]. The true meaning therefore has a body, not just a soul, for the body is what ‘anchors’ meaning in this world.
Such earthiness of meaning is asserting that the extra symbolic meanings are ‘situated’ in a given historical context, and the sheer fact they are contextualised, and how they are contextualised, is important to interpreting them. Even if he had subsequent generations in mind, Jesus was teaching first century AD Jews living in a very definite setting, and much of what he says to them has to be interpreted in terms of those people, in that time and in that place.
Yet, given how often Jesus quotes from the Psalms and Isaiah, often echoing them directly in his words [echoes that his audience would have picked up], it is apparent that he saw analogies between past events and present events. He used a form of what is called ‘typology’ in his meaning-making= certain symbols recur, in different forms, not because they are ‘archetypes’ in Plato’s or Jung’s sense, but because they refer to mysterious spiritual meanings and energies repeatedly intervening in historical circumstances, always doing something similar as in the past [creating continuity] and always doing something new different from the past [creating discontinuity]. In this way, Jesus upholds an ongoing ‘progressive revelation’ with both recognisably ongoing themes and new departures, leaps forward, which are not foreseeable. New occurrences of symbolic types, in altered circumstances, bring new meanings, but often throw additional meaning on the old symbolic types. They mean more, or mean something different, when seen retrospectively. In this way, tradition never stalls, simply repeating the past, nor does it just break off from the past.
If you stick with Yahweh’s right arm, then you will always end up splitting and fighting over historical and symbolic. ‘It really happened’ but there are wheels within wheels to ‘the meaning’ of what happened.
Only Yahweh’s left arm sustains the converging of mystery and word, spirit and symbol.
Judaism lost its roots [the existential calling of Abraham, Jacob, and Job], and its bigger path [the First Temple of Solomon, and the wave tossed wrestlings of David, the ancestor of and ground for the coming Messiah], between 500 BC and the time of Yeshua. Salvation replaced Redemption for Judaism, just as it later did in Christianity, for a combination of complex reasons, many of them political, some of them spiritual. Jews and Christians just fought over the meaning of the Saviour Figure= the Jewish one modelled largely on Moses and this-worldly in emphasis, the Christian one rendering the Cross the ‘condition’ for Salvation as transport to the next world. This robs the Cross of any genuinely Messianic, Redemptive power= it ceases being the key to unlock hell, and becomes instead the key to open the doors of heaven; this ‘happily’ escapes hell– and leaves the deep problem in hell unaddressed and unredeemed. The most important thing of all, in all of the human venture through-out history, is tragically left undone.
Thus both modern Judaism [for 2,500 years] and modern Christianity [for 2000 years] have had competing Saviour Figures, but neither has had a Messiah, the Redeemer.
This is a cataclysm for both religions. Both Messianic religions are broken, in opposite ways, like a bird that cannot fly with one wing.